Squirrel tests positive for bubonic plague, officials say bacterial disease is naturally occurring, cases happen each year

Squirrel in Colorado tests positive for bubonic plague

Health officials in Colorado announced a squirrel in Jefferson County has tested positive for the bubonic plague. The plague is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria called Yersinia pestis, CBS News reported.

The squirrel was found July 11 in Morrison, Colorado, state officials said.

Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment said there has been an uptick of plague activity recently, KUSA reported.

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But on average, about seven people every year test positive for the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is usually found in Northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada, the CDC has said.

It can be transmitted from bites from infected fleas or direct contact with an infected animal’s blood or tissues, transmitted by a cough or bite.

A teen died in Mongolia this week after eating infected marmot meat, Sky News reported.

Health officials in Colorado said the risk of getting the plague is extremely low if proper precautions are taken, ABC News reported.

Cats can develop the illness from flea bites, a rodent scratch or bite or eating an infected animal, ABC News reported.

Dogs themselves are not susceptible but could carry infected fleas.

But officials said that while rare, contracting the plague is not unheard of.

Symptoms include sudden high fever, chills, headache, nausea and pain and swelling of lymph nodes that develop between two to seven days after exposure.

If diagnosed early, it can be treated with antibiotics. There is no vaccine, ABC News reported.

So how can you prevent animals from spreading the bacteria?

  • Eliminate food for wild animals
  • Eliminate shelter for wild animals
  • Eliminate access for wild animals to your yard
  • Avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals
  • Have pets examined when sick
  • Talk to a vet about flea and tick control
FILE PHOTO: A squirrel has tested positive for the bacteria that causes the plague, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are on average seven cases seen in humans each year.
FILE PHOTO: A squirrel has tested positive for the bacteria that causes the plague, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are on average seven cases seen in humans each year. (Marco Ugarte/AP)